North East on track for better future

File photo dated 03/06/15 of a First Transpennine Express train, as train passengers in the north of England and Scotland have been promised a "world class" service with the announcement of new contracts for two rail franchises. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Wednesday December 9, 2015. The Northern franchise has been awarded to Arriva Rail North and the TransPennine Express route to First TransPennine Express. See PA story RAIL Franchises. Photo credit should read: Peter Byrne/PA Wire
File photo dated 03/06/15 of a First Transpennine Express train, as train passengers in the north of England and Scotland have been promised a "world class" service with the announcement of new contracts for two rail franchises. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Wednesday December 9, 2015. The Northern franchise has been awarded to Arriva Rail North and the TransPennine Express route to First TransPennine Express. See PA story RAIL Franchises. Photo credit should read: Peter Byrne/PA Wire
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Investment in trains, community banks established and thriving, a record number of new businesses starting up in Northumberland – the outlook is positive as we end 2015.

The UK economy has been growing faster than any other in the G7. At the heart of this growth is the North East. We are leading the way for the Northern Powerhouse, growing faster than any other northern region in the past year.

With this success, there would be a great deal of temptation to rest upon what has been achieved, but this Government has no intention of doing so.

The challenge has been how to bring the recovery back home – to local communities and to regions of the country outside the South East. This month, we have seen great examples of how we are going to face up to this challenge.

We have announced the biggest transformation of the railways in the North of England for decades in the TransPennine Express.

The new franchises, which will run from April 2016, will bring a £1.2billion boost in funding to rail services in the North.

This will include introducing more than 500 brand-new state-of-the-art carriages, providing four times the number of seats into Newcastle during the morning rush hour and, crucially, removing the outdated and unpopular Pacer trains.

This will create room for more than 40,000 passengers at the busiest times by also bringing in thousands of extra services each week.

On top of improvements to capacity, and routeing – for example a new service to Edinburgh from Newcastle, will go via Morpeth – the entire service will be brought up to date and beyond.

Challenging targets on cancellations, and short formations have been set, to ensure a service that is on time and as seamless as possible.

In total, there will be more than £55million investment in stations themselves.

Vitally, there will be discounted advance fares for those aged 16 to 18 and jobseekers, making the new 125mph services, accessible to everyone.

Beyond the headlines, though, the TransPennine express will, at its heart, play a vital role in bringing the Northern Powerhouse to life, rebalancing the economy and creating jobs, opportunity, and growth. It delivers on the Government’s commitment we made to passengers that we’d build a world-class rail service that would make the Northern Powerhouse a reality.

These improvements are all part of the government’s one-nation approach, closing the gap between North and South, and bringing greater economic security to people in the North East as part of our plan for the Northern Powerhouse.

We also continue to strive to bring the recovery into the community.

My column last month looked at the recent launch of our Tynedale Community Bank, bringing banking back to the local high street and putting profit into the community.

At the heart of this project is putting the local back in business.

Small Business Saturday entered its third year on December 5 as five million small businesses across the country opened their doors for a full day of trading.

Last year, 16.5 million adults went out to support a small business on Small Business Saturday and collectively spent £504million.

This year, we did even better, spending a total £623million, with 25million people coming out and supporting their local businesses.

Small businesses are vital to our local economy in Northumberland and make a valuable contribution to our community.

There are now 27,000 more businesses in the North East than in 2010, many of them small or medium-sized. These businesses are vital, helping to create more jobs and opportunities, not to mention, in many cases, bringing back some vibrancy to our high streets.

It is our local businesses that have helped ensure the number of people claiming unemployment benefits is down by 51 per cent since 2010.

We cannot build a strong economy unless we build up from our communities and support our small business champions.

This is our plan going forward, and December has provided just a first glimpse of what we want to achieve in 2016 and beyond.